Why Claiming “Belief is a Psychological Crutch” Backfires

by Lenny Esposito

I just had the opportunity to listen to a recent Unbelievable? podcast where Christian biologist Zachary Ardern squared off against Peter Atkins, debating the topic “The Case from Science For & Against God.” Atkins is an avowed atheist and is steeped in philosophical naturalism and scientism. He even said near the end of the interview (about 55:35 and following) that science is really the only way to discover truth and if one isn’t leveraging science as the ultimate arbitrar of truth people are “not fulfilling their human capability.”1 I guess that means we should shutter all the humanities departments at the colleges as a huge waste of money!

Given Atkins’ full-blown scientism, it should be no surprise that he repeatedly decried any appeal to an immaterial cause for the order and design we see in the universe as “intellectually lazy.” Arden tried to challenge Atkins on this point by explaining that scientist routinely distinguish between personal and mechanistic explanations every day (such as by forensic scientists). He then extended that to say an immaterial mind could provide better explanatory power than a purely mechanistic account of how the universe came to be.

The Mind as a Physical Process

Atkins objected to even the idea of an immaterial mind as “gobbledygook.” He then replied, “We know what mind is. We know that mind is the outcome of the functioning of the brain. We know that the brain is a conglomeration of interacting cells. We know that those cells work upon physical/chemical principles. So, to say that there is a kind of ‘super-mind’ out there, disembodied, that can effectively do what it wants and create the material universe, I think, that’s just fantasy.”

Arden objected to Adkins characterization. “I think it’s very fair to us that there is a distinction between personal explanations and mechanistic explanations.”

Atkins quickly shot back: “Well, I agree with that, but I think to understand the personal explanation, you put your subject onto the psychiatrist’s couch and you explore how they come to those… that kind of understanding.”

At this response, host Justin Brierley sought Atkins to clarify that he believes all minds basically reduce down to the chemical processes that happen in the brain, and Atkins gave a non-equivocal response…

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Why Claiming “Belief is a Psychological Crutch” Backfires | Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes